Agricultural Subsidies have Brought Nothing but Hunger to the Country

The skyrocketing food prices and the electioneering environment that Kenyans find themselves in presents an opportunity to have an important national debate that has been ignored for quite a while, the role of government in the economy.

Last week the government issued a 6 billion shilling subsidy to maize millers. This subsidy intends to bring the price of unga to the below market price 90 shillings per 2-kilogram packet.

In the same week, Mumias sugar was seeking 3.4 billion in bailout funds from the Treasury. In the last two years, the Kenyan government has sunk over 3.1 billion shillings in Mumias to stabilize the sugar miller.

At some points in time, the government has caved into protests by maize farmers in North Rift and purchased bags of maize at prices above market prices. There was also the 1 billion shillings for Miraa farmers in Meru.

Well, this habit of government subsidies on various facets of the Kenyan economy should stop. These subsidies are not only a reward for inefficiency, but also allow the government to pick winners and losers in the market place.

Right, now there is discontent that grain millers are laughing all the way to the bank, the argument is that the 6 billion shillings in subsidies is more of subsidy to the millers than it is on consumers.

It is no surprise that the word “cartel” is being bandied around. Every economic malaise that happens in this country is blamed on “the cartels.” So much so that a Nairobi gubernatorial candidate is running on a platform of dismantling the cartels. This is not surprising at all; the structure of the economy and governance as is, allows cartels to play a disproportionate role in the country’s economy.

See, cartel is another word for “crony.” Cronies being individuals that receive preferential support from the government.

Herein lies problem, because the government’s hand is in almost all sectors of the economy, politicians in government can either choose the cartels they like or cartels can align with politicians they like. In either situation, everyone else save for the cartels and the politicians are losers.

For example, a 2013 Presidential Taskforce on Parastatal Reform identified at least fifty-five commercially oriented government owned entities. These government entities are in sectors as diverse as energy, agriculture, and many others.

These fifty-five entities deny would-be legitimate business to thrive, whereas at the same time allowing well-connected cartels to prosper at the expense of the entire economy.

Whereas a case could be made for some strategic government agencies, the same cannot be said of others. Some government run agencies bring entire industries tumbling down to the mud with them.

In the sugar sector, for example, it would be foolhardy to expect private millers to compete with inefficient and over subsidized state millers, with no other motive other than rewarding politicians and their cronies.

The same Parastatal Reform Taskforce revealed the National Produce and Cereals Board makes loses, year in year out. Now, the NCPB is in charge of Kenya’s now synonymous Strategic Grain Reserve. The rather important responsibility of stocking the country’s food produce rests with the Strategic Grain Reserve. It is rather imprudent to leave the important task of feeding a nation on a loss-making enterprise.

Nations have been feeding huge populations without subsidy and Kenya should be no exception. Besides, greater government control in agriculture quite as disastrous, as evidenced in the great Chinese famine in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

The politicians have lost the plot and the argument. The most important thing during this subsidy debate seems to have been whether the ship set sail from Mexico or Durban. Shouldn’t the debate have been about reducing input costs and increasing yields in maize and other agricultural production?

The important question during this election ought to be, whether Kenyans want more government inefficiency running or ruining their lives, and not the daily dose of theatrics that Kenyan politicians deliver without fail.

The Ban on Plastic Bags in Kenya: Does the Country have Evidence Based Policy Alternatives?

Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary in charge of Environment, Water and Natural Resources, Prof. Judy Wakhungu, has set in motion the process of banning the manufacture, use, and importation of plastic bags in Kenya. In the Kenya Gazette Notice no. 2356 published on 14th March, 2017, Prof. Wakhungu declared a ban on all plastic bags effective from 28th August, 2017. The ban applies on:   

           a)Carrier bags: those with handles, and with or without gussets      

           b)Flat bags: constructed without handles, with or without gussets

The ban has been a long way coming with respect to concerns raised on the environmental impact of plastic bags by many environmentalists. It has been received with mixed reactions from environmentalists and manufacturers.

For a long time, plastic bags have been the choice for carrying items in Kenya especially from retail outlets. The bags come in various sizes, and it is estimated that an individual shopper uses approximately 3 new plastic carrier bags each day since they are freely given. Even though they are ‘free,’ the cost of plastic bags is passed on to the consumer through a “consumption cost” imposed by the retailers and other supermarkets[1]. Beyond their intended purpose, plastic bags have had a severe environmental impact:

Land Pollution

A spot check of Nairobi reveals a city choked with all manner of plastic debris that has become an eyesore. Kenyans are not known to be environmentally-savvy and are fond of throwing their litter haphazardly, despite the numerous dust bins placed strategically in streets of most towns. Dump sites, like the one in Dandora, are operating beyond their capacity making it more difficult to control plastic waste. It is worse in the rural areas where land productivity has gradually declined due to the impact of plastic waste trapped in the soil that doesn’t allow the penetration of water.

Blocking of the drainage system

Plastic waste has contributed to the blockage of the drainage system in major towns. It is not a surprise that during the rainy season the streets and roads get flooded due to an ineffective drainage system. The plastic waste is swept off the streets and into the drainage system where it causes clogging. Worse still, little maintenance of the drainage system is rarely done by the relevant authorities. The blame game keeps shifting depending on who is involved: the citizens blame NEMA for failing to enforce measures on waste disposal and the county governments for failing to collect garbage, the county governments blame it on citizens and budgetary deficiencies, while policy makers heap the blame on lack of public awareness on environmental conservation and lack of enforcement.

Impact on wildlife and marine life

Plastic bags find their way into water bodies when blown away by the wind or swept by floods. The colored ones are usually mistaken for food by birds, animals, and marine organisms such as zooplanktons, fish and sea turtles. The plastic bags congest the digestive and respiratory systems of the organism leading to infections or death through suffocation. Others like turtles get entangled in plastic waste which hampers their movement.  Additionally, the food chain is affected by the ingestion of the plastics by organisms as small as planktons. The waste chemicals present in plastic bags accumulate through the food chain thus affecting larger animals who depend on others for food. This means that the fish consumed by humans is potentially harmful.

Harmful to human health

When plastic waste is burned as a disposal method, toxic gases are released into the atmosphere that are harmful to human health and a threat to climate. The toxic substances result in respiratory diseases such as chronic bronchitis and asthma. Greenhouse gases are emitted into the environment leading to the depletion of the ozone layer that ultimately causes changes in climate. When disposed improperly, the plastic bags harbor when it rains where mosquitoes breed thus leading to increased cases of malaria.

Countries that have banned or tax plastic bags heavily

In recognition of the adverse effects of plastic bags on the environment and health, some countries have either placed a total ban or enforced high taxes on plastic bags. Kenya is the latest country to introduce a total ban on the manufacture, use, and importation of plastic bags. The first country to impose sanctions on plastic bags was Denmark[2], which began in 1993. Additional charges were (are) levied for on plastic bags, which has resulted in a drop of 60%. Ireland introduced the 2002 'bag tax' where consumers have to purchase bags, which has led to a 90% drop in usage[3]. The utilization of plastic bags was increasing by the year 2007, which necessitated a further increase in the price of the plastic bags. The European Union has set a target of 80% reduction in the use of plastic bags by 2019 thus compelling most countries to rethink their policies on the manufacture and use of plastic bags

Other countries that are trying to control the effect of plastic bags include Wales, which has enforced a minimum charge of 5p on all plastic bags since October, 2011[4]. The charge applies for all retailers, and by July 2012, a 96% drop in the number of plastic bags provided by shops was recorded. In Italy, distributing plastic bags manufactured from non-biodegradable sources was banned in January, 2011[5].

A 5p charge is applied in Scotland on all plastic bags used in retail outlets or online since October, 2014. The utilization of single-use bags fell by more than 80% within the first year. In Germany, all outlets providing plastic bags are subjected to a recycling tax. As of July 2013, 17 states and 98 cities & counties in the United Sates had either placed bans or pending. The number had grown to 20 states and 132 cities by 2014. Fines are imposed on stores providing plastic bags to customers in Mexico since August, 2010. Brazil introduced an outright ban on plastic bags in October, 2007.

In Australia, lightweight bags are not banned though some states like South Australia and North Territory along have independently placed a ban on them. They were first banned in Coles Bay, Tasmania. In 2008, the ‘Zero Waste’ program was introduced in South Australia, which has resulted in the ban of lightweight plastic bags. China imposed a total ban on plastic bags in June, 2008.

In Bangladesh, plastic bags were banned in 2002 following severe flooding between 1988 and 1998 submerging over two thirds of the country in water[6]. The primary cause was the blockage of the drainage system by plastic waste and garbage. In France, a total ban was effected in Paris January 2007[7]. Large retail outlets in other cities and towns banned free carriers and introduced a charge of between 2p and 42p for reusable bags. Belgium introduced a plastic bag tax in 2007.

In Africa, charges and bans are placed on plastic bags in several countries. Rwanda Botswana, South Africa, Uganda, Somaliland, Ethiopia, and Kenya are some of the African countries that have placed total bans on the manufacture, use, and importation of plastic bags

Plastic bag ban in Rwanda

In 2004, shops were prohibited from giving away plastic bags thus reducing their consumption. A total ban on plastic bags has been in place in Rwanda since 2008 in line with its Vision 2020 to promote a sustainable environment[8]. To effect the ban incentives were given:  tax breaks were provided for companies that recycled plastic bags instead of manufacturing them while creating a new market for bags that were environmentally friendly. Its capital, Kigali, now boasts as one of the cleanest cities in the world. Rwanda’s ban is the strictest to the point that visitors are required to hand over all their plastic bags at their points of entry into the country. The country is now mulling on banning other types of plastic, and potentially make it the first plastic-free country in the world.

Economic implications of banning plastic bags in Kenya

Prof. Wakhungu, in announcing the ban against the manufacture, use, and importation of plastic bags didn’t offer any viable alternatives. Concerns have also been raised over the commercial impact of the ban. The Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM) has also issued a statement expressing concern on the lack of consultation with all stakeholders who are likely to be affected. According to KAM, the ban of plastics will adversely affect jobs and livelihood of many Kenyans since there are over 176 companies manufacturing plastics that directly employ 2.89% of all Kenyan employees and over 60,000 people indirectly[9].

Potential alternatives to plastic bags

In her order to ban plastic bags in Kenya, the Cabinet Secretary did not disclose whether environmentally friendly alternatives to plastic bags were considered. The most viable alternative is the reintroduction of manila paper bags for packaging in retail stores. They were the preferred choice for packaging long before plastic bags were introduced. The manila bags are currently used in packaging items like cement and food as used in most fast food outlets serving fish & chips, popcorns, as well as packing maize and wheat flour. Other forms of paper like those used in making newspapers can be used to pack meat. These bags are easy and cheap to produce, and they decompose easily when disposed. The recovery rate for manila paper bags is four times greater than that of plastic bags. Additionally, the source of energy for making manila paper is renewable or carbon-neutral. Even though they are not as durable as plastic paper bags, they are eco-friendly, recyclable, foldable, and easy to store. These bags can be used to hold compostable waste, and are safe to kids since they do not contain harmful chemicals.

Crotchet bags made from wool or yarn using a crochet needle at a home present a suitable alternative to plastic bags. They are easy and cheap to make. Crotchet bags can be reused and only need to be washed regularly. They are ideal when shopping for groceries or when carrying stuff when going out for a picnic.

Straw bags made from papyrus reeds are another excellent alternative to plastic bags. They are easy and cheap to make at home, and durable. Straw bags are made in in different sizes and shapes. In Kenya, they are popularly used for collecting tea leaves after picking in plantations. They are suitable for carrying stuff to work, carrying food, and shopping for grocery.

Policy alternatives to counter the impact of plastic waste

There are viable alternatives that the Cabinet Secretary would have considered before banning them. At the moment, plastic bags used for packaging commodities in retail outlets are provided for free to the consumer. This could be the reason why most Kenyans are not keen to recycle them and only use them once before they are disposed. The current cost of a plastic bag should, for instance, be tripled and a policy introduced where the bags would be expensive to acquire from retail outlets. In this case, the customer is compelled to buy their plastic bags instead of them being given freely. It could encourage the customer to reuse the bag when they go to purchase items and deter those who use them for a single purpose and dispose them. Additionally, the retail outlets in partnership with recycling plants are compelled to have a collection point where plastic bags that can no longer be used are returned for recycling. Individuals who return a specified weight of plastic bags are paid a certain amount per kilogram. They are then handed over to recycling plants. This policy is effective in implementing the 3Rs since in making the plastic bags expensive consumption would be Reduced. When a customer goes back to a retail outlet with their plastic bag they had acquired earlier, it would have been Reused.  When collected and handed over to recycling plants, the third R, Recycle would have been implemented.

To achieve this, the relevant environmental authorities have to create public awareness at the grassroots level on the impact of plastic bags on the environment and how the public could use them responsibly. Littering the environmental is a behavioral trait that can easily be modified through awareness campaigns. Most of the awareness programs carried out by environmental agencies are usually at the boardroom, which does not trickle down to the common citizens. Holding conferences alone in an effort to conserve the environment won’t yield much, mass awareness programs could play a critical role in curbing the misuse and inappropriate disposal of plastic waste. In doing this, emphasis must be placed on the 3Rs of sustainable waste management: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.

Economics of the 3Rs

The 3Rs of sustainable waste management can positively impact the economics of environmental conservation in Kenya. By reducing, reusing, and recycling plastic bags, less waste is introduced to the environment meaning less resources are allocated by environmental authorities in managing it. The resources saved can be put into other meaningful use for sustainable growth of the economy and environmental conservation. Chemicals emitted to the atmosphere by plastic waste when disposed or through ingestion by animals are reduced. This implies the cases of people developing respiratory diseases will go down thus reducing healthcare related bills. The number of animals choking when ingesting plastics reduces thus cutting down the losses. 


There is no doubt that that plastic bags have had adverse effects on the environment, as well as on animal and human health. Banning the manufacture, use, and importation of plastic bags in is a long term solution to curb the plastic bag menace. However, the Cabinet Secretary ought to have involved all stakeholders to come up with an effective policy on how to get rid of plastic bags. For instance, it would have made sense to progressively phase out the plastic bags while introducing environmentally friendly alternatives. Livelihoods will be lost once the over 176 manufacturing companies close shop when the ban is effected. Where will they turn to?


[1] United Nation Report (2005). Selection, Design and Implementation of Economic Instruments in Solid Waste Management Sector in Kenya : Case of Plastic Bags

[2] Larsen, J., and Venkova, S. (2014). The Downfall of the Plastic Bag: A Global Picture. Retrieved March 29, from

[3] Convery, F., McDonnell, S., & Ferreira, S. (January 01, 2007). The most popular tax in Europe? Lessons from the Irish plastic bags levy. Environmental and Resource Economics, 38, 1, 1-11.

[4] Confederations of Paper industries (CPI). (2014). Levy on Single-use Carrier Bags. Retrieved March 29, from

[5] European Parliament. (2014). Petition No 1905/2014 by G. L. (Italian) on the ban on the sale of plastic bags in Italy. Retrieved March 29, from

[6] Van Leeuwen, A. (2014). Plastic Bag Bans and Third World Countries. Retrieved March 29, from

[7] Chase, M., and Hampole, N. (2010). Building Long Term Solutions: Retail Shopping Bag Impacts and Options. Retrieved March 29, from

[8] Clavel, E. (2014). Think you can't live without plastic bags? Consider this: Rwanda did it. Retrieved March 29, from

[9] Kenya Association of Manufacturers. (2017). Local Manufacturers not consulted on Ban of Plastic Bags. Retrieved March 29, from

Survey on Devolution and the Budgetary Process in the Counties

Members of the public making their contributions in a public forum in Nairobi County (Source: Nairobi City County Website)

 The Eastern Africa Policy Centre (EAPC) together with its partners, the Kenya Association of Manufacturers and Students for Liberty (SFL) are conducting a survey on the Public Finance Management in the counties. These ubincludes access to forums for public participation as well access to critical public documents with regards to Public Finance in the  counties. 

This survey is in line with the objectives of the project: Fostering Issue Based Political Dialogue.The survey will assist the EAPC in preparation of an upcoming publication, documenting the social, economic and political challenges facing citizens in their quest to engender good governance in the management of public resources in the counties.

Kindly spare five minutes of your time to fill the survey. Please find the link of the survey below: 

Thank you.


EAPC and Project Partners Hold Capacity Building Forum for CSOs and Political Aspirants in Kiambu County

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EAPC's Programs Manager, makes a Point during the Presentation at Blue Post Hotel In Thika.


By Polycap Nyaribo,

Programs Asssistant:

Eastern Africa Policy Centre.

14th October, Blue Post Hotel-Thika. The Eastern Africa Policy Centre in conjunction with its project partners, the Kenya Association of |Manufacturers (KAM) and African Students For Liberty (ASFL) held a capacity building forum for Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and aspirants of various political seats in Kiambu county.

Dr. Jason Lakin, Country Manager, International Budget Partnership (IBP-Kenya) joined the in the forum.

The seminar targeted “improving the participation of the CSOs and the general public in county governance,” especially on matters relating to public finance, as well as preparing candidates for their role in the devolved governance system of things. This it is hoped will promote accountability within the counties to spur economic, social, and political development.

Dr. Lakin made a presentation on the county budget cycle with emphasis on the four main stages: formulation, approval, implementation, and audit/oversight. He touched on the roles played by various stakeholders and institutions in public finance management within the counties. Also canvassed were the various budget-related documents produced by the county governments, which include the County Fiscal Strategy Paper (CFSP), County Budget Review and Outlook Paper (CBROP), County Budget Estimates, and the Finance Bill.

Mr. Alex Njeru, the Programs Manager-EAPC, made a presentation on the need for society to embrace a culture that perpetuates the shared interests of all members of the society without consideration of their political alignment, ideology, and goals. He emphasized on the need for a progressive society based on policies that promote unity with disregard to ethnicity and social class. After that, an interactive session was conducted in which the participants discussed on issues that we need to start doing, continue doing, and stop doing for a progressive society. There was a general resolve by the participants to enhance public participation in county governance.

The political candidates present in the seminar were given an opportunity to sell their political ideologies and aspirations. Worth noting is that all envisioned solving societal ills to promote local development. There was a renewed stamina by them to drive progressive politics that were oriented on solving societal problems rather than the traditional confrontational politics.

It marks a new dawn for participation in county governance by all stakeholders to promote socioeconomic and political development. 

* These Capacity Building forums are happening under the auspice of the “Fostering issue-based political dialogue between civil society coalitions and political candidates project.” The project is funded by the Danish Institute for Parties and Democracy (DIPD). The project is implemented through partnership with (Liberal Alliance) as the Danish project partner and Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM), African Student for Liberty – (A-SFL) and Eastern Africa Policy Centre as the Kenya Partners.


For More information contact:

Alex Njeru, 

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The Effect of Policy and Political Tinkering on Kenya’s Sugar Sector


Alex Njeru,

Research and Programs Director- Eastern Africa Policy Centre.

Events happening late last month have provided proof yet again that Kenya’s sugar sector remains in limbo. Mumias Sugar started by declaring a half year loss of 1.58 Billion KES, up from the 1.4 Billion KES loss it made over the same period last year. The miller is asking for a KES 2Billion state bail-out, this after it received 1 Billion KES bail-out in June 2015. By that time, the miller owed its creditors 10 Billion KES. In the same week, the Kenya Revenue Authority KRA impounded 16 containers of “Contraband” sugar entering the country at the port of Mombasa, two months ago the KRA had impounded 8 containers.

The above issues are just but a tip of the iceberg. As you will soon discover the sugar industry in Kenya has been a comedy of policy and political mistakes. This situation has left the sector an underperformer in a region with vibrant sugar sectors. The sector has remained a mere appendage of the Kenyan economy rather than an important cog in Kenya’s the economy.


Also Read, Bitter Sugar: How Government Policy Has Left The Kenyan Sugar Industry In Chaos


How did this paralysis get entrenched? One cannot answer this question without going back into the post-independent history of the sugar sector and perhaps the prevalent ideological persuasions of political leaders at the time. Broadly, there have been four policy regimes: the state-centric regime, the structural adjustment Programs regime, the mixed market regime and the COMESA regime. These regimes have had the effect of the allocating or at times misallocating the gains of productive activity within the sugar sector.

During the colonial period, sugar farming and milling was under the hands of Asian families. Asians had invested in both the Western Kenya sugar belt and the Coastal sugar belt. Political independence brought through conscious efforts to Africanize critical sectors of the economy. Sugar farming was opened up for native farmers.


The state also assumed prominent roles in the sector. The state-centric approach was characterized by state capitalism that involved substantial central planning and the state’s direct involvement in economic activity. During this policy regime, the government acquired controlling stakes in Muhoroni, Chemelil and Miwani sugar which had previously been owned by Asian families. The government also controlled the distribution and wholesaling of sugar through the monopolistic control of the Kenya National Trading Corporation (KNTC). KNTC also fixed the price of sugar, and as such there was very little incentive for improved production in the sector. Farmers could not increase production because of improper farm-gate pricing policies, state millers could not improve production efficiency because they had minimal competition. Farmers bore the brunt during this phase due to low cane prices, consumers suffered because of rationing that ensued from the logistical incompetence of KNTC.

In the early 1980s, the Kenyan government, as did other African governments was going through severe fiscal difficulties. The pile up of underperforming state enterprises and volatile international commodity markets left the Kenyan government cash-strapped. The government was forced to divest from many sectors of the economy including the sugar sector.

The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund forced the Kenyan government to liberalize the economy and the sectors therein, like the sugar industry. There was overriding apathy for the neo-liberal agenda, behind SAPs. This was a minor problem during this phase, the major one being that privatization and import liberalization provided an opportunity for well-connected local and political elite and crony capitalists to lay their hands on privatized millers or sugar import licenses. The government went against the spirit of liberalization by protecting cronies through a range of import tariffs and import quotas. This heralded the protectionism in the sugar industry. Although domestic millers and suppliers were protected from international and regional competition through a range of import tariffs and quotas they could not meet growing demand. Deficits range around 300,000 metric tonnes annually. Deficits coupled with highly controlled import regulations have kept domestic sugar prices around 100% more than the global average.

In the early 2000s, a few clever things started to happen within the industry, one being that the government started acknowledging the important role of co-operative governance in the sector. The government invited the private sector and civil society organizations into the governance of key regulatory institutions. This period coincided with the poverty reduction strategy which aimed at providing opportunities for farmers to generate incomes from increasing economic activity. Sugar production within this period increased, the government moved further back from the market and endeavored to play an effective regulatory role rather than direct production. The existence of state and private millers side-by-side also allowed for the comparison of efficiency. Private millers offered farmers better cane prices and had better cane conversion efficiencies.

The other incessant challenge that the Kenya sugar industry has faced over the years has been the country’s ascension into COMESA. In 2004, Kenya was given safeguards that protected its sugar industry from import competition. This safeguards were given with a view to providing the country time to make its industry more competitive. In 2014, the country successfully lobbied for the fourth time to extend the COMESA safeguards up to 2017. There is little evidence that the sugar industry is competitive and is ready for completion with other COMESA members who outperform Kenya on many important parameters.

Historically it is clear that the imprint of the state and government policy has been detrimental in the sugar industry. The government’s role in misallocating incentives and profits within the sector have come at the cost of an underperforming sector. In light of this realization, it would be prudent for the government to fully liberalize and privatize the sector and allow market forces to dynamize and make the sector competitive, as has happened in the telecommunications sector in the country. 

The Mirage of Constitutional Participation in Kenya

Some commentators have referred to Kenya’s 2010 constitution as the most progressive constitution sub-Saharan Africa has ever seen. Well, that might sound a little bit like a hyperbole, but the Kenyan constitution lays the perfect foundation for a constitutional democracy. Of great importance is the role of the constitution gives to citizen sovereignty, the preamble for example explicitly states that, “All the sovereign power belongs to the people of Kenya and shall be exercised only accordance with this Constitution.”  Simply put, the promulgation of the current constitution in 2010 was Kenya’s Magna Carta moment.  It is unlike the Lancaster Constitution which began by stating that “Kenya is a Sovereign Republic.” Remember it was not until 1991 that Section 2A of the Lancaster Constitution was repealed to pave the way for multi-party democracy. It is clear that the Lancaster Constitution did not pay any attention, however, remote to citizen sovereignty.  Though the current constitution is ambitious in approach, it does underscore the importance the people of Kenya place on progressive people-centered governance.

The pitfalls of the Lancaster Constitution, particularly its relegation of citizens to mere appendages of statecraft was the reason it was critical to have a new constitution in the first place and a new constitution we had ourselves in August of 2010. Save for the supremacy of the citizen sovereignty which the constitution granted to the people of Kenya, the inclusion of citizen participation on critical issues of social, economic and political concern to Kenyans is also an important and progressive feature of this constitution.

Citizen participation in all spheres of life is an important feature of 21ST-century good governance best practice. In fact, the rationale behind devolution was that it would provide citizens further away from the center of power that was Nairobi with a real chance to prioritize and decide how resources would be used for their benefit. Article 174 (C) of the Constitution states that the objectives of devolution of government are, “to give powers of self-governance to the people and enhance the participation of the people in the exercise of the powers of the State and in making decisions affecting them.” Article 174 (D) provides a new bottom-up development paradigm providing for the need, “to recognize the rights of communities to manage their affairs and to further their development.” These articles from the constitution show a clear departure from the way of the old. The constitution heralds in a new era of people-centered development. From the onset in the preamble, the theme that the ‘citizen’ is the single most important actor in Kenya threads through the entire document.

But perhaps there is no more pronounced role for citizen participation than in the management of Public Finance. Previously, the executive almost unanimously had discretionary sanction to decide how public finances were utilized, not anymore.  Article 221 (5) provides room for the public to play a constructive role in budget making in the country, “in discussing and reviewing the estimates, the committee shall seek representations from the public, and the recommendations shall be taken into account when the committee makes its recommendations to the National Assembly.” The public thus has a much more refined role to play in creating sectorial equity through the budget process. The public, for example, asserts they need more spending in education rather than health or security for that matter, the prerogative is with them. The Public Finance Management Act (2012), the subsidiary act that qualifies the Chapter 12 of the constitution on Public Finance Management obligates the Treasury to include the views of the public in the preparation of the Budget Policy Statement.

Before we celebrate these small constitutional victories, there is a need to examine whether the spirit of the constitution of providing for consistent citizen participation in matters of governance is being given more than superficial adherence.

There is a need to know whether indeed to know whether citizens and citizen groups understand that they are indeed a critical cog in the balanced development of the country. Whether indeed executive structures have created the avenues necessaries to facilitate citizen participation. For example, the Parliamentary Budgetary Office gave the National Treasury 53% compliance rate when it comes to releasing the important document for citizen participation.

Additionally, there is a need to deal with the deep-set issues of apathy, historical occurrences of insensitivity to citizen needs in the past get in the way of effective participation. Perhaps citizens feel that public forums to discuss key issues are no more than window-dressing exercises meant only to comply with constitutional thresholds rather than exercises to mainstream them in the determination of resource prioritization.


Indeed, there is a need for further civic education, not only to enlighten them on their roles and responsibility in development planning but also to increase their capacity to alleviate the asymmetries that occur when engaging governmental officers. 

Has South Sudan Caught the Cold of Tribalism?

They say a man’s character can be deciphered from the character of his friends. This holds true for nations as well, and I can as well say that South Sudan has taken very little time to catch the bad manners of her friends or neighbors. For around three weeks now the nascent state of South Sudan has been enveloped in civil strife that is threatening the very dream of nationhood and statehood that took over twenty years to come from. See, South Sudan has not taken long to catch the bad manners of her neighbors; most countries in the East and Horn of Africa have serious problems of ethnicity and tribalism. In Kenya, the problem is pronounced: social economic and political value ascription has assumed ethnic dimensions.  The country of 42 or so tribes is split almost right down the middle, political coalescence and organization usually take ethnic lines which at times have serious ramifications as is evident in the 2007 post-election chaos. In Ethiopia, the Oromo people of South Eastern Ethiopia have been fighting for secession from Ethiopia since time immemorial. South Sudan has very strange peers for company.

If ever a country had to go through a lot just for its mere existence then South Sudan is one. For all except 11 of the 48 years since independence in 1956, Sudan has been engulfed in civil conflict. The conflict between the North and the South erupted one year before Sudan gained its independence in 1955. South Sudan was born after 21 years of armed conflict between the government of Sudan (Khartoum) and Sudan People’s Liberation Army, led by John Garang Demabior. The end of the conflict came to an end with the signing Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 16th October 2004, between John Garang Demabior and Osman Taha the immediate first vice-president.

South Sudan’s destiny changed bizarrely with John Garang’s death on July 30th, 2005. Garang, the larger than life liberation hero, had a spirit that held the people of Southern Sudan together. His personal suffering and commitment for an independent South Sudan held his people together. With his death, the fickle Salva Kiir and Riek Machar could flourish.

Salva Kiir of the Dinka tribe and his arch-enemy Riek Machar, a Nuer, have allowed fissures to occur in the independent state of South Sudan. They have allowed South Sudan to catch the endemic flu of tribalism that afflicts her neighbors without respite.

The current South Sudan conflict potentially destabilizes the Horn and Eastern Africa region. A lot in the region is hinged on the stability of South Sudan. The mega; road, rail, pipeline and Port project LAPSSET, (Lamu Port Southern Sudan Ethiopia Transport project) is hedged on the development of the South Sudan oil sector.  The current crisis also put South Sudan’s aspirations to join the East African community in jeopardy. The negotiations were scheduled to start in March 2014. 

But there is hope for South Sudan. Abdul Mohammed and Alex De Wall writing in the Washington Post assert that ‘there is an opportunity to halt South Sudan’s slide into war and state failure, but it must be seized within days, or it will be lost. This requires the leaders of South Sudan to rise above narrow, tribalistic, zero-sum politics and develop a national program. President Salva Kiir and other members of the country’s political elite — in government and opposition, inside South Sudan and in the diaspora — must respond to this challenge now or go down in history as having betrayed their people.’

Riek Machar and Salva Kiir have the opportunity to lead the nation further back from the precipice upon which South Sudan has a foot forward. They can make permanent the shadowy sense of unity that has been papered over especially after the internal revolt against Garang in 1991.


Kiir and Machar have an opportunity to get into the right sections of history books, by putting national interest ahead of personal interest. I hope we are not asking for too much from African leaders who have borrowed too much bad from so many bad examples.

The Intricate Balance of Justice and Sovereignty in Uhuru’s Trial

As a Kenyan, it is taboo to comment on the issue of the President’s and his Deputy’s trial at the International Criminal Court at The Hague. In Kenya as is always the case, there is an ethnic prism through which most social, political and economic issues and opinions are examined. Every opinion is pried open and too much read into it. The trial of the President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Deputy, William Ruto at The Hague requires an intricate balancing act.  A balancing act that requires balancing opinion and reason between the insatiable quest for justice for the victims of the post-2007 general elections violence with the question of the sovereignty of the people and the state of Kenya.

Kenyan politics is fluid, friends become foe, and foes become friends faster than the blink of an eye. As consequence, opinions change, affiliations change and certainly do opinions. Thus at the moment getting an objective opinion from many a Kenyan is a difficult task, as many an opinion are heavily intoned with political sympathy or apathy for President Kenyatta and his Deputy Ruto.

During the general elections of 2007, Mr. Ruto and Mr. Kenyatta were in two different camps. Mr. Ruto was a kingpin of the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), which fielded Raila Odinga as its presidential flag bearer for the general election that year. Mr. Ruto is an influential man in Kenya he controls a swathe of votes from the vote-rich Kalenjin community from what was then referred to as the Rift Valley province.

Mr. Kenyatta on his part was in the Party of National Unity political order which fielded the then incumbent Mwai Kibaki as its presidential flag-bearer. Though at the beginning it seemed as if the Post-Election Violence were spurred on by what was seen as the most bungled election in Kenya’s history, deep-seated resentment and hatred among tribes over other issues other than the election started finding expression in the violence. Flare-ups around the issue of land became a big issue, especially being that it is that the Kalenjin (Mr. Ruto’s community) and the Kikuyu’s (Mr. Uhuru’s community) share a common border. The Kikuyu and the Kalenjin share, markets, land resources and family times. However, the politics of the year 2007 strained this to the lowest ebb. In the post-election violence of the year 2007-2008, these two communities, although there was violence amongst other communities especially in the urban slums, it is Mr. Ruto’s Community and Mr. Kenyatta’s communities that were at the thick and thin of things during the post-election violence of 2007.

Mr. Kenyatta and Mr. Ruto and their communities are inextricably linked by conflict, politics, economics and trade and share interests. Certainly, it is the giant that is International Criminal Court that brought Mr. Kenyatta and Mr. Ruto who had hitherto been in different political camps together. Their political collaboration has brought an uneasy peace between the two communities together.

The trial of Mr. Uhuru and Mr. Ruto at The Hague is threatening to bust Kenya at its seems. We have so many questions, should we forget and wish away what happened in the year 2007 for the peace we enjoy now? Is that peace long lasting? What happens to the victims of the 2007 post-election violence? What happens to Kenya’s sovereignty, should the head of state stand trial in a foreign court?

Balancing issues of justice with Kenya’s sovereignty is arduous a task in itself, there are those within the Kenyatta and Ruto stables who have a filling that the whole quest for justice by the International Criminal Court was politicized from the very onset.

The victims of the 2007 poll elections need justice. In my opinion, the prosecution of the President Uhuru and his deputy is good for Africa but bad for the Kenya. It is good that despots and tyrants around the Africa have a hanging cloud of international prosecution over them. It is important that African rulers remember that the International Community will not tolerate impunity and wanton loss of life and property, it is good and important that African leaders have a constant reminder that a La Rwanda 1994 will and shall not be tolerated by the international community.


As for Uhuru since he ascended to office earlier this year, he has been trotting all over the African continent. He has been whispering into the ears of African leaders, urging them to stand with him, alluding to the fact that what is happening to him might happen to them. That is why the African Union earlier this week issued a resolution that 'No African Head of State Shall Stand Trial in an International Court.’ They further petitioned the International Criminal Court to defer the trial of Mr. Kenyatta and Mr. Ruto until the two leave office. The African Union is about self-preservation; not the preservation of African people, but the preservation of the banal desires of African heads of states to hold on to power till the end of time.

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